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Erik Chinander points and gives out instructions during practice indoors
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Defensive Depth Chart Coming into Focus as Huskers Approach Opener

October 15, 2020

Nebraska offensive coordinator Matt Lubick addressed the media via Zoom early in the day on Thursday, but it was his defensive counterpart’s turn to speak as Erik Chinander hosted this month’s Nebraska Football Show on Sports Nightly.

Chinander sat in for an hour and hit on a number of different topics as the Huskers moved one step closer to the season-opener with Thursday’s practice.

The defensive coordinator said the Huskers started working some scout periods into the practice plan for the first time as they begin transitioning from fall camp into game-week preparations, though he also said their good-on-good reps in practice should give the defense some good looks at what they might see from the Buckeyes considering the teams’ stylistic similarities.

“I thought the energy was good today, it was good to be outside and good to be playing football again,” Chinander said.

The Huskers haven’t been able to do everything they normally would during fall camp because the student-athletes are in class, capping the coaches’ time with the team at 20 hours per week whereas they’d typically get as much time as they want as a normal fall camp begins before classes start for the semester.

Chinander said the coaches are getting close to having a solid depth chart, but there are still some position battles that will continue into next week.

“I think the players have a good idea about who’s in the 1 and 2 groups,” Chinander said. “I think we still have a few practices before we start the game week to really see, and some of those position battles are so tight it’s going to come down to who understands what we’re trying to get done the best because the ability is very, very similar. I think they have a good idea about who’s in that one and two rotation. They don’t know exactly — some of them do, some positions are pretty much solidified, but others there are still a couple tough decisions to be made.”

Chinander said it was nice to have more depth than they’ve previously had and that he’s seen some guys start to emerge as potential situational players the coaches might be able to use in certain packages.

The first caller of the night asked Chinander about some of the most improved players on the defense and guys the huskers are expecting to have a big season. Chinander first praised the first-string defense, though he said it isn’t totally set yet. Then he got into individual standouts at each level.

On the secondary: “The defensive back group is kind of an anchor for us right now because of so much experience with Dicaprio Bootle and Cam Taylor and Marquel Dismuke, and obviously Deontai Williams got hurt last year but I thought he was going to have a great year before his injury and I think he’ll have a great year this year.”

On the linebackers: “Guys that we probably are looking forward to having big years are Caleb Tannor on the edge along with a trio of new guys that Coach Dawson’s got. I think Collin Miller and Will Honas are slated for a big year inside as well as Luke Reimer rotating in a lot, getting a lot of playing time and spelling those guys.”

On the defensive line: “Up front, you’re just going to have a lot of new faces. Everybody knows we lost three guys that are in the NFL now, so up front there are going to be a lot of new faces but I think Coach [Tony] Tuioti has done a great job with those guys. Ben Stille is looking to have a great year, and Damion Daniels and some of those guys. Then some new faces like Ty Robinson is going to have a big year and I think a guy like Casey Rogers and Deontre Thomas. You’re going to see a lot of faces rotate in and out on that defensive front, which is a good thing.”

Chinander also laid out the plan for closing out this last week of fall camp before they finally move into a game week.

“I think Coach Frost has done a good job with the schedule overall and then just how we’re going to go about those things,” Chinander said. “I think he’s done it in a smart way; we don’t just go straight to scout team. He kind of mixes in so the guys, No. 1, are used to it, they know who’s supposed to be where. They get a few reps of being coached by the scout team coaches running the other team’s offense, but they’re also getting some good-on-good work. I know we’re going to have another similar practice to today tomorrow and then he’s going to kind of give us our guidance where we go from there. Then obviously once we hit Sunday that will be like a normal game week.”

Other News and Notes:

>> Sophomore outside linebacker Garrett Nelson got a shoulder issue cleaned up after the season and had to be held out of contact drills for a while, but Chinander said he’s come back and everybody knows how much he loves football.

“He’s a guy that needs to keep the tempo high in practice and helps set the tone for everybody else,” Chinander said.

>> Nebraska will be relying on some junior college guys in the trenches in Keem Green and Jordon Riley. Chinander said Green arrived on campus late last year and wasn’t in great shape early on but he worked hard in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval.

“He’s still a big, big man but he looks like one of those guy that should be playing on Sunday now,” Chinander said. “His body’s transformed and he’s done a great job learning the package and just developing.

Chinander also called Riley a “pleasant, pleasant surprise.”

“When he can go, he really goes and he’s a big, big man,” Chinander said. “He’s hard to block.”

As for the junior college transfers at outside linebacker — Niko Cooper and Pheldarius Payne — Chinander said they’re “kind of a work in progress” but they’ve both done a good job and will probably get a chance to play.

>> One outside linebacker who has already played a lot of football for Nebraska is JoJo Domann.

“I think JoJo’s as good as he wants to be,” Chinander said. “I would expect a big year from JoJo. All he has to do is focus on doing his job and executing, and when he does that big plays happen. I think he’s made some big plays already but I think he’s got a lot more to give — not in a negative way, but I think he’s a guy that’s got all the potential in the world, and we know that’s a dangerous word, but I really expect him to have a really great year and I hope he makes a lot of great plays for us.”

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